How to Tell the Difference Between Red and White Oak Flooring

how to tell the difference between red and white oak flooring

Oak is the most popular hardwood flooring because it is a practical choice. Oak is a very durable wood that may last well over 100 years and is widely available.

Compared to other wood species used for hardwood flooring, it is fairly inexpensive and quite versatile, as it can be stained practically with any color.

However, we are more interested in how to tell the difference between red and white oak flooring.

The most evident difference between both kinds of wood is the color. White Oak is a darker wood than Red Oak. White oak is a blend of browns and tans ranging from dark brown to beige in color, while red oak is a lighter wood that goes from practically white to a soft amber color.

Read on as we explore more differences between red and white oak flooring.

What is Red Oak Flooring?

Before we get into the distinction between both wood, let’s take a little history on Red Oak.

The northeastern United States and southeastern Canada are prime locations for Red Oak. Carlisle only harvests Red Oak timbers from the abundant forests of New Hampshire and Vermont, where harsh winters produce slow-growing trees with tight, continuous grain within the floorboards, allowing for outstanding widths and lengths.

What is White Oak?

White oak can also be found in the Eastern United States, though not as plentiful as Red Oak. We get White Oak from the best growing areas in the world, including the Ohio River Valley and Western New York, where cooler conditions promote tight growth rings.

White Oak, which is more resistant to moisture and rot, is commonly used to construct boats and wine barrels, as well as magnificent hardwood floors.

Related: Difference between oak and pine flooring

How to Tell the Difference Between Red and White Oak Flooring?

Below are some noticeable differences between both flooring options:

1. White Oak is More Tougher than Red Oak

White Oak flooring has a Janka hardness rating of 1360, whereas Red Oak flooring has a rating of 1290.

White oak is also highly dense, making it a better choice for outdoor furniture and boat building.

Some argue that White Oak is a more stable species (has less seasonal movement) than Red Oak. However, both types of hardwood flooring will have some seasonal movement.

For most homes, both red and white oak flooring are good alternatives for long-term durability.

2. Red Oak Grain Patterns are More Distinct than White Oak’s

When compared to Red Oak, white oak has a finer, less obvious grain pattern. White Oak grain is straighter and tighter than Red Oak grain, with fewer swirls, circles, and deviations.

Red oak has broader grain lines that can run in zigzag patterns or delicate, wavy lines that White Oak lacks.

Another reason why Red Oak flooring has a more pronounced grain pattern than White Oak is that it is a lighter wood. On the other hand, the smoother appearance of White Oak can be ascribed to the fact that the dark grain stands out less against the darker wood.

Read: How to install end grain flooring

3. Red Oak is Commonly Installed in Stair Treads, Newel Posts, Handrails, and Banisters.

If you already have Oak stair treads in your home that you need to match, chances are they are Red Oak.

Because White Oak is less often used, it will be slightly more expensive when building new treads or railings in your home, but not significantly so.

4. Pricing

There isn’t much of a price difference between Red and White Oak. Because unfinished hardwood flooring is a commodity, its price varies from week to week. Occasionally Red Oak is more expensive, and sometimes White Oak is more expensive.

The pricing will also differ depending on the width of the boards and the grade of the wood.

5. White Oak Turns Dark Green, Purple, Or Black When Sprayed with a Sodium Nitrite Solution

Another method for differentiating white from red oak is to spray the wood with a 10% sodium nitrite solution or purchase a test kit.

Because sodium nitrite is usually only available in bulk amounts, this is not a very cost-effective method. However, if you have access to a 10% sodium nitrite solution, brush or spray it onto the raw wood and see the results.

White oak will turn dark green, purple, or black, whereas red oak will turn slightly darker than usual.

Related: Difference between vinyl and laminated flooring


If you are contemplating a new hardwood flooring installation we hope this post on how to tell the difference between red and white oak flooring has been useful.

Both hardwood floorings are excellent choices for long-term durability and beauty. It’s basically simply a matter of preference and what your overall aims are for a specific finish or aesthetic!

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